A ‘Day of Rage’ over corporate greed
Participating in what was called the “U.S. Day of Rage,” a small band of demonstrators gathered yesterday across from Union Station on Alameda Street to protest what they feel is the loss of their democracy to a self-interested wealthy elite.
“The amount of money that has been surging into Washington is at unprecedented levels,” said Adam Solomon, a demonstrator. “Especially with the Citizens United ruling, Wall Street and major financial markets have significant leverage now because of their access to capital and our representatives.”
The Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission granted corporations the same First Amendment rights afforded individuals, allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political broadcasts. The decision was widely condemned as a threat to democracy and called a “coup d’état in slow motion” by Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, who warns of corporate tyranny.
“There is just too much money going around in Congress,” said Solomon. “The influence of money is overriding the influence of the constituency. That is the heart of the problem: the issue of money in politics right now.”
The action was part of a nationally coordinated effort to support a New York demonstration, called “Occupy Wall Street.” The plan was to march on Wall Street, camp out and turn it into an “American Tahrir Square.” However, hundreds of protesters were turned away by police, leaving them to set up their camps in nearby Trinity Place, according to Agence France-Presse.
The LA demonstration, although small in number, – about 60 people showed up – appears to be part of a growing awareness within America that the economy and tax codes are for the benefit of the few. Such realizations have even made their way into the mainstream press.
For Instance, in April, The New York Times ran an article by staff writers Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story asking why those who were responsible for the Great Recession were never prosecuted.
“But several years after the financial crisis, … no senior executives have been charged or imprisoned, and a collective government effort has not emerged,” wrote Morgenson and Story. “This stands in stark contrast to the failure of many savings and loan institutions in the late 1980s. In the wake of that debacle, special government task forces referred 1,100 cases to prosecutors, resulting in more than 800 bank officials going to jail.”
In May, Vanity Fair published an article by economist Joseph Stiglitz, pointing out the reality of inequality in America.
“The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year,” wrote Stiglitz. “In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”
And perhaps the coup de grâce came last month when billionaire Warren Buffet wrote an op-ed for The New York Times saying it was time for the rich to pay up.
“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” wrote Buffet. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”
Nick Yaya attended yesterday’s demonstration to take advantage of the “opportunity to speak his voice.” He is dissatisfied over corporate personhood and the overwhelming role corporate money plays in politics.
“We are in a plutocracy. This is no longer a democracy where everyone has a voice,” said Yaya. “Now, only the rich have a voice.”
Yaya, who carried a placard that read “Debt equals slavery,” is also concerned about the federal deficit, saying that the debt of our government is a form of indentured servitude upon its citizens. He feels that wealthy Americans should start paying their fair share in taxes.
“I think they have a responsibility to give back to the country that enabled them to earn that money,” he said. “They got the money from us for providing a product or service. Then, in order to increase their profit margins, they ship the jobs overseas to people who will work for pennies on the dollar. Then they keep all the money from that and don’t give anything back.”
“I feel that this isn’t the America we were promised, the America that I was born in,” he added. “This is of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.”
A report published last month by the Institute for Policy Studies documented the extent of corporate greed. It paints the backdrop to such actions as “U.S. Day of Rage” or “Occupy Wall Street.”
According to the report, there are 25 corporations who pay their CEOs more than the entire company’s federal income tax bill. While unemployment remains high – 12 percent in California – the wages of top executives are returning to pre-recession levels.
The top CEOs within the S&P 500 earned on average $10,762,304 last year, which is up 27.8 percent from 2009, according to the report. Also, in 2009, CEOs earned 263 times the pay of the average wage earner. Now the gap is 325-to-1.
Despite all the talk about federal debt or the rich not paying enough in taxes, the demonstration was void of any left-right political rhetoric. Anger expressed was equally distributed toward both aisles of Congress.
Alex Mendoza, a business owner from Temple City, joined the demonstration out of frustration over the current political stalemates in Washington. He feels the problem in politics doesn’t lie with either political party or with an obstinate “tea party” movement. Rather, he sees the source of ills coming from an elite few who infuse their money into politics.
“It’s just a very small group of people,” he said. “And that group [is] afraid of losing privilege and power, because they know that an empathetic and generous society goes against their interests.”
Mendoza fears that if things don’t change, if wealth is allowed to be funneled more and more to the top one percent, America may face a revolution. He says this can be avoided if the wealthy realize they won’t lose their status by sharing.
“They have enough power and enough money to spread it around and still be the powerful ones,” he said. “I don’t want to be on the top. I just want them to let me have a decent living and provide an education for my daughters.”